Thursday, January 7, 2010

Generosity - Now, More Than Ever

A client of mine (I'll keep his name anonymous, but let's call him Bob), contacted me to update an existing promotion. Normally, this would be a good thing, but I cringed when he called. Bob has 5 invoices outstanding, ranging from 30 to over 90 days past due.

A few days ago, I figured out my January budget. I really needed Bob to pay me, or else I wasn't going to be able to pay all of my bills this month. I vowed that I would not do any additional work for Bob until he at least paid a few of the most delinquent invoices. Almost as if on queue, here was Bob asking for additional work!

The project Bob needed was pretty simple; it would take about an hour to do. After he described it, I asked him when I could expect a payment. I knew Bob's business was at least as slow as mine. His story confirmed my suspicions. Bob is at the point where he is printing all his correspondence in black and white because he can't afford to replace his printer's color toner cartridge.

In all the years we have been working together, Bob always paid me. He wasn't always as prompt as I would have liked, but he always paid his bills. When he got behind, Bob would commit to a payment schedule and chipped away at the balance until it was paid off. This time, however - and for the first time in our business relationship - Bob told me he had no idea when he would be able to make the next payment.

I could feel my teeth clenching. Before I could respond, Bob told me he would harbor no hard feelings if I decided to suspend working for him until he could pay me.

So I had a decision to make. I took a deep breath. I would be totally in my rights to suspend my services in the hopes that it would motivate Bob to meet his financial obligation to me.

But then I started thinking about the history of our business relationship. Bob and I have worked together for at least a dozen years. It wasn't long before Bob trusted me to the point that I didn't have to furnish an estimate before beginning a project - Bob had a ballpark idea what each job would cost, and he trusted that I would communicate with him each step of the way, especially if a project looked like it might be more expensive than usual.

Bob was easy to work with. I knew his sensibilities and could produce designs he liked, with a minimum of revisions. The workload suited me perfectly. There were always new programs and projects that allowed me creative freedom. And when I completed each job, Bob would always express his appreciation.

Bob was what I would describe as a "dream client". We worked together well, and nature of the work and the workload were perfectly suited to my talent and personality. The more I thought of this, the more my shoulders relaxed.

I wish we could have continued working together at the same pace for another dozen years, but that simply isn't possible right now. Rather than gripe about how Bob was currently unable to give me any work right now, let alone pay me, I chose to consider the value of having a dream client for so many years. If we never worked on another project together, truth be told, I was grateful.

What is having such a great client worth to me? If I add up all the intangibles - well-paying, stress-free work, a steady reliable workload, having a well-organized, reasonable, pleasant client who shares much the same philosophy on life - I quickly realize that I have profited far beyond the monetary compensation I have gained. If Bob never pays his outstanding balance (though I know he eventually will), I will still have come out ahead.

My initial impulse to cut Bob off until he paid me was based on scarcity, fear, disappointment and selfishness. It felt stiff, cold, stingy, and out of balance. If Bob and I had any chance of surviving these hard times, this wasn't the attitude that would turn things around. It was going to take gratitude, generosity, flexibility and compassion.

I cleared my desk, completed Bob's promotion, and sent it off to him, free of charge.

It felt right.

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